The Long Struggle To Save Former Prisoner Ravil Mingazov From A Fate Worse Than Guantánamo — Seven Years’ Arbitrary Imprisonment in the UAE


Yusuf Mingazov, the son of Ravil Mingazov, outside the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in London on September 16, 2023 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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On Saturday, I was honoured to stand with the family of former Guantánamo prisoner Ravil Mingazov outside the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in London to call on the Emirati government to free him from the arbitrary detention to which he has been subjected for the last six years and eight months, following his transfer there, on the basis of grotesquely betrayed promises that he would be helped to rebuild his life and to be reunited with his family, after over 14 years’ imprisonment without charge or trial in Guantánamo.

Around 25 people gathered outside the publicly located but thoroughly inaccessible embassy in Belgravia, whose officials’ disdain for any complaints about the Emirati authorities is such that no one even deigned to answer the door when Ravil’s son Yusuf, his mother, his aunt and uncle and his cousin sought to hand in a letter urging his release. Nevertheless, we made our presence felt, and Yusuf and I both spoke (and you can see the video of my speech below), as did a representative of the UK Guantánamo Network (of which I’m also a member), which had organised the protest with the Muslim NGO CAGE.

It was an inspiring event — one of those where the solidarity of those present, and the charm and humanity of Ravil’s relatives came together to create exactly the kind of fortitude and determination that is required to prevail in circumstances of chronic injustice like that to which Ravil has been subjected for over 20 years, and I look forward to reconvening sometime soon outside the Home Office, where the home secretary Suella Braverman needs to be reminded of what mercy, kindness and generosity look like.

Yusuf Mingazov (second from left), the son of Ravil Mingazov, with his mother, uncle, aunt and cousin outside the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in London on September 16, 2023 (Photo: Andy Worthington).
Campaigners with the UK Guantánamo Network join the family of Ravil Mingazov outside the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in London on September 16, 2023 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

Ravil, a Russian Tatar, born in 1967, had been a ballet dancer in his youth before joining the Russian Army, but in the late 1990s, married with a baby, he faced religious persecution after he began to openly practice his Muslim faith, and in early 2000 he moved with his family to Tajikistan, seeking a new life. Fearing for their safety, however, he sent them back, and returned to Tajikistan alone, eventually ending up in Afghanistan, and then Pakistan, where he was seized in a house raid in March 2002.

In October 2002, he was sent to Guantánamo, where he had to wait for over seven and a half years, until May 2010, for a judge to grant his habeas corpus petition and to order his release, having concluded that the government had failed to demonstrate that he had any meaningful connection to Al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces.

Shamefully, however, Obama administration lawyers appealed that decision, although it was never dealt with by the courts, leaving Ravil in a state of limbo that lasted until June 2016, when he had his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board, an administrative process that led to his approval for release a month later.

Arbitrary detention and abuse in the UAE, and repeated threats to repatriate Ravil

In January 2017, just before Obama left office, Ravil was transferred to the UAE, with three other men, joining 19 other men sent there in 2015 and 2016. All had been promised help with rebuilding their lives and being reunited with their families, after a short period of rehabilitation, but instead they were all imprisoned, in circumstances that were even more deplorable than what they had generally endured in Guantánamo.

I was first alerted to the plight of the 23 men sent to the UAE in May 2018, but it wasn’t until July 2020, when four of the men — all Afghans — had been repatriated by the UAE government, that a number of UN Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups were alerted to the situation, and wrote to the UAE government to protest about how, despite assurances that, “following six to twelve months in a residential rehabilitation program, the UAE would facilitate release into Emirati society and family reunification”, the men were “facing further lengthy periods of detention without charge or trial in the UAE”, and that there were “serious concerns that they have been victims of severe mistreatment.”

In relation to Ravil, the Rapporteurs and Working Groups noted that, since his transfer, he had been “detained in an unknown location without charge, trial or access to legal counsel”, and was “currently threatened with forced repatriation to his native Russia”, where he was “likely to be subjected to torture and ill-treatment.”

The experts also noted that, “Although his family could visit him in Al-Razeen Prison on two occasions, during the period from 20 November to 18 December 2018 and from 13 to 26 May 2019, they could not confirm whether he was detained there or only transferred for the visit”, and added that, “From May to November 2019, Mr. Mingazov was denied any contact with his family and was reportedly subjected to torture and humiliation by security guards. After those five months, his calls with family were put under surveillance and cut off when he talked about his deplorable detention conditions and ill-treatment.”

As they also explained, “Mr. Mingazov was reportedly on hunger strike in November 2019 for at least 20 days, denied any medical care, and moved into solitary confinement on several occasions between February and March 2020, which heighten[ed] the risk of his ill-treatment.”

The experts also protested the treatment of the 18 other men — all Yemenis — who, they wrote, had all “allegedly suffered continued arbitrary detention, without charge or trial”, and had been “subjected to ill-treatment and deplorable detention conditions.”

Despite the criticisms, the Emirati authorities were undeterred. In October 2020, they provoked further outrage (which included the UN Rapporteurs and Working Groups) when they proposed to forcibly repatriate the Yemenis. This was not only unsafe for them, but it also directly contravened the US government’s ban on sending home any Yemeni prisoners from Guantánamo, which was the reason that they had to be resettled in a third country in the first place.

In July 2021, the Rapporteurs and Working Groups were required to intervene once more on Ravil’s behalf, when the threat to repatriate him surfaced yet again. As well as reiterating that he “faced substantial risk of torture and ill-treatment upon his return”, the experts also noted that his “continuous arbitrary detention at an undisclosed location” in the UAE “amounts to enforced disappearance.”

Showing their contempt for the UN, and for the State Department under President Biden, who had inherited the UAE problem from a thoroughly uninterested Donald Trump, the Emirati authorities proceeded to forcibly repatriate the Yemenis (with at least one man subsequently being seized by a militia), leaving Ravil alone in his ongoing arbitrary detention.

Ravil Mingazov’s family, and members of the UK Guantánamo Network spell out the latest UN opinion about Ravil’s continued imprisonment in the UAE outside the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in London on September 16, 2023 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

The current campaign to secure Ravil’s freedom

And so to June this year, when former prisoner Moazzam Begg brought Ravil’s son, Yusuf, to a meeting of the recently-established All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Closure of the Guantánamo Detention Facility, with the infuriating news that, once more, the Emirati authorities were threatening to forcibly repatriate his father.

It was a great pleasure to meet Yusuf again, as I had first met him in London five years ago, after the UAE scandal first became public, when he was 18, and I was impressed with how gentle and articulate he was. Ironically, he and his mother had been granted asylum in the UK in 2014, because they too had faced persecution from the Russian authorities in connection with Ravil’s case.

In 2015, even before he was approved for release from Guantánamo, his lawyers in the US “filed an official application with the UK Home Office appealing for Mingazov to be allowed to rejoin his family”, who were then living in Nottingham with other relatives. In the application, as the Guardian described it, the family promised to provide Ravil “with full housing and financial support should he be released from Guantánamo.” As his US lawyers put it, “They are ready to do everything they can to receive and heal Ravil Mingazov after his long nightmare in GTMO.”

That application, however, was ignored by Home Office, and when I met Yusuf in 2018, with his British lawyers, the long nightmare had relocated to the UAE, and getting him out of arbitrary detention had taken priority over any practical thoughts of resettling him in the UK. The lawyers’ consensus, at the time, was that publicly attracting attention to Ravil’s plight would not play well with the Emirati authorities, who were only likely to pay attention to organizations like the United Nations.

Five years later, the repeated interventions of the UN’s Rapporteurs and Working Groups may well have prevented Ravil’s enforced repatriation, but he remains held almost incommunicado and in intolerable conditions. In 2018, Yusuf told me that the only communication he had had with his father involved “brief phone calls, which were abruptly terminated whenever his father tried to mention the deplorable conditions in which he was held.” Since 2021, however, he hasn’t been allowed to speak to his father at all.

In response to this renewed threat to Ravil’s life, Apsana Begum, Yusuf’s constituency MP, six other MPs and a peer — all members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Closure of the Guantánamo Detention Facility — wrote to the home secretary Suella Braverman on August 17, urging her to “immediately consider granting his application to enter and remain in the UK, and be reunited with his son and family.”

The letter from Apsana Begum, six other MPs and a peer to the home secretary Suella Braverman on August 17, 2023.

The day after, Yusuf also wrote to the Home Office, stating, “My father has endured over two decades of imprisonment, torture and mistreatment and has been separated from his family for over twenty years. He is an innocent man. He deserves the chance to live his life in freedom and safety, with his family.” He added, “I cannot express the pain and anguish that my family and I continue to endure as a result of this. The helplessness we feel is quelled only by the hope that my father will one day soon be reunited with us.”

No one realistically expects Suella Braverman to respond, but the case for Ravil’s resettlement in the UK is pretty compelling from a moral and humanitarian standpoint.

On September 15, just before the protest outside the UAE Embassy, the UN Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups once again intervened on Ravil’s behalf, warning against his “forcible repatriation” to the Russian Federation”, and calling for “an immediate end to the harmful cycle of extended and arbitrary detention” to which he has been subjected.

They added that Ravil “has been subject to an unrelenting cycle of torture and must be treated as a victim, released, and granted meaningful reparation for serious violations committed against his human rights in Guantánamo Bay and now in Emirati detention.”

Crucially, the experts also urged the UAE government to “immediately release” Ravil, and to “protect his fundamental human rights by transfer to a third country where his safety and fundamental rights are assured.”

As Suella Braverman’s in-tray fills up with correspondence relating to Ravil — the latest, today, being a letter from numerous US rights groups calling for Ravil to be resettled in the UK, where he “already has the support of his loving and capable family” — it is becoming ever clearer that that third country, where his safety and fundamental rights will be assured, is actually the UK, which, despite Suella Braverman’s animosity to it, was instrumental in helping to draft the European Convention on Human Rights, in which Article 8 states, pertinently, that “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”

Campaigners in the US, and Ravil’s US attorney, Gary Thompson, hold a protest calling for Ravil’s release outside the UAE Embassy in Washington, D.C. on September 18, 2023.

POSTSCRIPT (October 5, 2023): Please visit Facebook or Twitter to watch the formidable Irish independent MEP Clare Daly telling the EU Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday why they should care about Ravil’s case, in a blistering one-minute speech of sustained and entirely appropriate outrage.

As Clare explained in the text accompanying her speech, “Ravil Mingazov was held for 14 years without charge in Guantánamo, a horrendous injustice. Sent to the UAE on diplomatic assurances he could rebuild his life, he was then imprisoned there, again without charge, for six years, and now faces deportation to Russia, where he fears torture and an unsafe future. The EU and its Member States must call on the UAE for his immediate release and resettlement to a safe third country, where he can reunite with his family.”

Every month, the entire EU Parliament has to move from Brussels to Strasbourg for around four days of plenary sessions, and this latest visit came immediately after the extraordinary “Close Guantánamo!” event that was held in Brussels last Thursday, at which I was a speaker, and at which Ravil’s plight was frequently mentioned. 

I’m very honoured that, over the weekend, Clare asked me to brief her on the lawless ins and outs of Ravil’s case, and can only add that the “safe third country, where he can reunite with his family” needs to be the UK, which, shamefully, is no longer part of EU, but is where Ravil’s family has been living for many years, since they were granted asylum.

Ravil Mingazov, on the left, with his mother Zuhra Valiullina, and his elder brother, photographed on an extremely rare family visit in August 2023. The photo was made available by Ravil’s son, Yusuf.

The photo above was included by Elise Swain in her latest article for the Intercept, ‘White House Faces Calls to Stop Ex-Guantanamo Detainee’s Forced Return to Russia.’ I think you can see from the photo how thin Ravil is, and what nearly seven years of solitary confinement have done to him, despite his efforts to put a brave face on his predicament for his 87-year old mother, Zuhra Valiullina.

Elise Swain spoke to Ravil’s mother, who was invited to visit her son, for only the second time since his transfer to lawless imprisonment in the UAE in January 2017, and where an Emirati official told her that Ravil was “free to go” but that “only Russia was willing to issue him a passport and accept him on its soil.” The official told her that Ravil would “need to sign documents that would trigger his repatriation to Russia”, which, allegedly, would also contain “assurances” that he “would not be persecuted” on his return.

As Yusuf explained, however, “Russia poses a life-threatening danger to my father. I implore the authorities in the US and UK to intervene and cease the ongoing suffering that he is enduring unjustly.”

Elise Swain also spoke to UN Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, who visited Guantánamo earlier this year, and produced a devastating report, published in June, in which she not only damned the prison itself, but also the US’s lack of concern about broken diplomatic assurances when prisoners are released and either transferred to third countries or repatriated.

As she explained to the Intercept, “It’s deeply concerning that an assurance given to the United States appears to be broken without consequence. We need a White House, a high-level political intervention. It appears no one is willing to expend that political energy on a former Guantánamo detainee.”

As Ravil’s mother explained to the Intercept, when she visited him, she “wept when she watched [him] arrive with a blindfold over his face, his hands and feet shackled and chained.” As Swain described it, “He had aged rapidly since she had last seen him three years earlier”, and, for the first time, “was complaining of health issues that were going untreated.” He was also “shockingly thin, and his hair had gone completely gray.”

In further commentary about Ravil’s shameful treatment, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin said, “Mr. Mingazov is a twice victim of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment. Once while rendered and tortured by the United States at Guantánamo Bay Cuba, and twice while transferred to the UAE by the United States. It is inconceivable that he would be made a triple victim of torture while the United States stands idly on the sidelines.”

As she also said, “The diplomatic assurances given to the United States by their allies regarding the treatment of former Guantánamo detainees appear not to be worth the paper they are written on. If diplomatic assurances mean anything, they mean that you do not transfer a torture victim to a state where he is at risk of harm. If this is true of US citizens currently detained in Russia, it is equally true of former US detainees who would be transferred there.”

In the UK, a campaign to try and get Ravil reunited with his family members here, including Yusuf, who were granted asylum here many years ago, is still underway. It is, of course, an uphill struggle because of the current British government, but please be assured that, behind the scenes, a lot of effort is taking place to try to bring Ravil’s long ordeal to an end.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (see the ongoing photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.50).

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and, in 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to try to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody.

Since 2019, Andy has become increasingly involved in environmental activism, recognizing that climate change poses an unprecedented threat to life on earth, and that the window for change — requiring a severe reduction in the emission of all greenhouse gases, and the dismantling of our suicidal global capitalist system — is rapidly shrinking, as tipping points are reached that are occurring much quicker than even pessimistic climate scientists expected. You can read his articles about the climate crisis here.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

13 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, looking at the uniquely horrible plight faced by former Guantanamo prisoner Ravil Mingazov, a Russian Tatar, who, after being held for over 14 years without charge or trial in Guantanamo, was transferred in January 2017 to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where promises that he would be helped to rebuild his life and to be reunited with his family turned to ashes when he found himself imprisoned instead — subject to abuse, with no access to a lawyer, and with extremely limited contact with his family via sporadic phone calls.

    Despite the fact that Ravil was sent to the UAE because the US government specifically recognized that it was unsafe for him to be repatriated, the Emirati authorities have regularly threatened to send him home, where he faces the risk of torture and other ill-treatment. In 2020 and 2021, UN Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups strenuously urged the UAE not to repatriate him, but recently it became apparent that the Emirati authorities were yet again planning to do so.

    On September 15, the Rapporteurs and Working Groups again sent a strong message to the Emirati authorities, this time not only insisting that Ravil must be immediately released, but also that the Emirati authorities must “protect his fundamental human rights by transfer to a third country where his safety and fundamental rights are assured.”

    That third country should be the UK, and, the day after, campaigners with the UK Guantanamo Network and CAGE held a protest outside the UAE Embassy in London, supporting Ravil’s son Yusuf and his wife, who were granted asylum in the UK in 2014, after facing persecution from the Russian authorities in connection with Ravil’s case.

    Last month, Yusuf’s MP Apsana Begum, six other MPs and a peer — all part of the recently-established All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Closure of Guantanamo — sent a letter to the home secretary, Suella Braverman, urging Ravil to be allowed to rejoin his family in the UK, and our protest was part of an ongoing campaign to try to make this happen, and to finally bring to an end Ravil’s long and entirely unjustifiable ordeal.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Kevin Hester wrote:

    The never-ending nightmare that no one would know of if it wasn’t for Andy and his team on the ground in London.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, as always, for your support, Kevin!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Kevin Benderman wrote:

    Gitmo is is a prime example of the exact opposite of what the US is supposed to be.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Kevin. 7,923 days (today) of the most extraordinary hypocrisy:

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Pam Hardy wrote:

    What a heartbreaking story … at least we gave his family asylum and I pray he can join them after so long.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    It will be an uphill struggle, Pam, but then again, with Guantanamo, what isn’t? We’re looking to build support amongst decent politicians for the day when Suella Braverman is no longer the home secretary so that it might become a reality. Supportive, human rights-loving celebrities would be helpful too!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia Rivera Scott wrote:

    Yusuf is so brave. I see so much dignity and courage in him. Hope his dad gets back to them soon.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, Yusuf is a genuinely inspiring young man, Natalia, and the rest of his family are lovely too. They will certainly help to make the case for Ravil to be allowed to join them here.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Anita Tuesley wrote:

    The last Special Procedures communication on this was 15th September. His plight is known all over the world, he’s done nothing wrong but be a victim who can articulate how states broke international law in order to victimise him – which means he’s subject to more victimisation.

    “Abstract commitments to end torture have absolutely no meaning when former Guantánamo detainees are transferred to further torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance,” the experts said.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that was such a powerful opinion, Anita, and it was inspiring that it was issued the day before our protest. I’m interested to hear that you think his case is known around the world. That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case here, but I’ve spent 17 years now not really appreciating how Guantanamo and its victims are reported in the Muslim world, because I don’t speak Arabic. I’d certainly like to think that his plight has reached the eyes and ears of his brothers and sisters in other countries.

  12. Vigil at UAE Embassy for Ravil Mingazov – UK Guantanamo Network says...

    […] Journalist Andy Worthington, a member of UK Guantanamo Network, has written about Ravil’s case and the vigil at the embassy. […]

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    For a Spanish version, on the World Can’t Wait’s Spanish website, see ‘La larga batalla para salvar a Ravil Mingazov, ex detenido, de un festino todavía peor que Guantánamo — siete años de encarcelamiento arbitrario en los Emiratos Árabes Unidos’:

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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